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Judge denies Schaghticoke request for contempt ruling

HARTFORD, Conn. - A federal judge has denied the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation's request for a ruling of contempt and sanctions against Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Blumenthal announced in a press release July 27.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey also denied STN's request to interview a former key Interior Department official under oath and to seek more materials in its appeal of the BIA's decision to rescind the tribe's federal acknowledgement, Blumenthal said.

The tribal nation received federal acknowledgement in 2004, but it was repealed in 2005 after a coordinated barrage of opposition by the state, other elected officials, a citizens' anti-Indian group and its powerful White House connected lobbyist, Barbour, Griffith and Rogers. The tribe's ongoing appeal was filed in January 2006.

Blumenthal's comments were based on a ruling from Dorsey that was filed under seal on the court's electronic filing system July 26.

The tribe sought a contempt ruling and sanctions against Blumenthal in June for divulging the contents of another sealed motion - one that the tribe filed in May seeking the court's permission to take testimony from former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Aurene Martin, who had issued the final determination granting the tribe federal acknowledgement.

In seeking a contempt ruling, the tribe's lawyers accused Blumenthal of intimidating and retaliating against Martin for her willingness to testify about the ''mistreatment'' the tribe's petition received. The lawyers said Blumenthal deliberately undermined the purpose of the sealed document, which was to protect Martin against such intimidation.

Blumenthal said in his press release that he was pleased and ''unsurprised'' at the court's denial to allow the tribe further discovery and to issue sanctions against his office.

''The STN has received all relevant - and some irrelevant - materials regarding denial of its petition,'' Blumenthal said.

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In divulging STN's request to take testimony from Martin, Blumenthal also outlined some of statements Martin, if allowed to testify, would have made.

Blumenthal said Martin would testify that she had accompanied Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt to the White House to discuss STN's petition with then-Director of Domestic Policy Margaret Spellings (now secretary of education) and others; additional White House visits by Bernhardt and other Interior officials; and Bernhardt's increasingly active role in recognition decisions in 2005, when STN's acknowledgement was reversed.

Martin testified in writing last July that the tribe's petition was ''among the best and most thoroughly researched petition ever reviewed by the BIA.''

In view of the recent revelations concerning White House interference and political pressure on Justice Department decisions involving Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the firing of U.S. attorneys, Martin's testimony could have been potentially damaging to Bernhardt and other Bush appointees who have claimed under oath that there was no political pressure exerted on them to reverse the federal acknowledgements of the Schaghticokes and the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation - Connecticut's other state recognized tribe whose history, like STN's, is documented back to the 17th century.

It is not clear from Blumenthal's press release whether the judge also denied STN's request for White House and Interior records - a request that was also made under sealed motion, according to the case file on the court's electronic filing system.

Blumenthal said he will now file a brief asking the court to dismiss the tribal nation's appeal.

Breaking months of silence, STN Chief Richard Velky issued a statement confirming that the tribe's request to interview Martin had been denied.

''The Schaghticoke Tribe still has court-approved discovery to conduct and depositions to take from the powerful D.C. lobbying firm hired to undo our recognition. In the very near future, we will lay out all of the information we've gathered so the public can see what some of Connecticut's highest elected officials did to our tribe. We believe the full record speaks for itself,'' Velky said.